Monday
Oct182010

The DTM coming to the U.S. and other NASCAR topics of note.

After seeing the latest Australian V8 Supercar race on the Speed channel over the weekend it’s easy to see why U.S. road racing fans - longing for something, anything to give them hope of a super production-based racing series on the way that doesn’t have the initials “NASCAR” attached - would go “all in” for the “DTM coming to America” rumor that flared up over the last few days. Supposedly, with BMW’s entry back into the German Touring Car Championship in 2012, the Munich-based promoter of the DTM - ITR - is working on some sort of “internationalization” plan that would take the DTM to America, Asia and other parts of the world, and that their plan has some sort of affiliation or endorsement from NASCAR.

Let me make this as clear as I can be: There is no truth to the report that NASCAR is involved in this whatsoever, and if there is actually a plan to take DTM to America, it’s a trial balloon being floated by the head of ITR - none other than Hans Werner Aufrecht - who told Autosport magazine “In America, we are working with the NASCAR organization. Beginning in 2013, we hope to have a championship with 12 races in the United States. They will be six with Grand-Am and six with NASCAR events, for a stand alone championship in America. I believe this is very, very good for the future of motorsport in the United States.”

Peter M. De Lorenzo is a national columnist who founded Autoextremist.com, a highly-regarded website devoted to news, commentary and analysis of the auto industry. He is considered to be one of the most influential voices commenting on the business today.In short, that’s bullshit. I have two impeccable sources (including one inside NASCAR) telling me that there is no truth to this report whatsoever. That they have no interest in the idea and that they haven’t been in talks with ITR, or Aufrecht, or anyone. Trial balloons are floated all the time in racing to see who would be interested in participation, sponsorship, etc., etc., and Aufrecht’s statement smacks of that all the way.

That the leaders of the DTM would ignore other series of note such as the Australian V8 Supercars and the ALMS, etc., - dismissing them as being inconsequential at best if not irrelevent altogether - is not surprising. After all, it dovetails nicely with the prevailing attitude encountered when dealing with the German car industry, especially when it comes to racing. And that attitude states - in so many words - that the sun and the stars revolve around them and the sooner the world acknowledges it the better off we’ll all be. The DTM is good and interesting but would it automatically translate into other markets immediately, while putting existing racing series here in the U.S. on the trailer? That’s highly doubtful.

Is the DTM an interesting and worthwhile series? Absolutely. But I would venture to guess that its appeal has a lot to do with where it’s being broadcast from and the players involved, and that if it was all of a sudden available here there would be nothing “automatic” about its acceptance. But that’s neither here nor there because as I said, there is no truth to the rumor whatsoever.

Now, what I can tell you is that NASCAR is very much involved with exploring new avenues to save the sport from implosion. Why now? Why not a couple of years ago when the writing was on the wall? Let’s just say that their predicament wasn’t viewed as being dire back then, despite all of the warning signs (declining in-person attendance, dwindling sponsorships, manufacturer unrest, etc.). The main difference now being that NASCAR can no longer sweep the sliding TV numbers under the rug, and as I reported almost two years ago, NASCAR’s declining TV ratings will spell deep, deep trouble for the racing series. And that’s one thing the France-led organization is more than a little concerned about.

And they should be.

The negotiations for the next NASCAR TV contract in 2012 will most likely mean the unthinkable scenario for NASCAR, and that is that the TV contracts among the participating networks will be reduced significantly. Needless to say, a reduction in fees rarely happens in big-time sports media deals, but once it does happen - and it will for NASCAR - the NASCAR gravy train will come to a screeching halt, as that TV money is the very lifeblood of the sport. So that’s why the sudden tone of urgency coming from Daytona Beach.

Two weeks ago I reported that NASCAR was finally ready to move beyond modifying the front clips of the current CoTs to make them look like the current crop of pony cars (Mustang and Challenger) and actually moving to stock appearing/stock dimension bodywork for the Sprint Cup series. That is true, and now it’s a matter of when that will happen. Yesterday wouldn’t be soon enough in my book but the change is in the works, and it will be transformational. This change is something that the current participating manufacturers have been quite vocal about - the “generic” CoTs being a monumental turn-off to them - and the switch to stock appearing bodywork is directly attributable to the unhappiness among these manufacturers.

While I’m at it, the alternative fuel announcement by NASCAR - switching to E15 in 2011 - was a major disappointment, considering that E85 is common in other forms of racing (ALMS for one), but for NASCAR it counts for blazing progress, as does the addition of electronic fuel-injection after the Coca-Cola 600 next May.

But there’s more to the “change” story within NASCAR. Much more. Concerned NASCAR insiders with clout are looking well down the road, and they’re not liking what they’re seeing. And because of that they’re investigating scenarios for the not-too-distant future that would shock racing fans. Really.

Stay tuned.

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